Before we finally plunge into winter here's a late autumn supper menu from my book Food, Wine and Friends that combines the best of autumn’s produce with a couple of convenience products.
Ready rolled pastry has made it wonderfully easy to knock up a quick, impressive tart while a simple dessert of grilled fruit dresses up a bought carton of ice cream. The soup can even be made ahead and frozen if you like.
Pumpkin soup with honey and sage
Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Tart, warm new potatoes, Garden salad
Grilled figs with cinnamon and sweet oloroso sherry ice cream and brandy snaps
Pumpkin soup with honey and sage
This is based on a delicious soup I had at a restaurant called Tom’s Kitchen, run by top London chef Tom Aikens. His version, I discovered, contained chicken stock. Mine is vegetarian but you could of course base it on chicken stock too.
75g unsalted butter
1 small to medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 kg pumpkin or butternut squash, de-seeded, peeled and cut into cubes
2 heaped tbsp clear honey
3 sprigs of sage
750ml vegetable stock made with an organic vegetable stock cube or 1 level tbsp vegetable bouillon powder
75ml double cream
Lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Gently melt the butter in a large lidded saucepan or casserole. Add the onion and carrot, stir, cover and cook over a low heat for about 4-5 minutes. Add the cubed pumpkin or squash, honey and sage, stir, replace the lid and continue to cook very gently for about 10 minutes. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly then remove the sage and sieve the soup, retaining the liquid. Put half the cooked vegetables into a blender or food processor with just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to blend into a smooth purée.
Transfer to a clean pan and repeat with the remaining vegetables, adding the puree to the first batch. Whizz the remaining liquid in the blender or food processor to pick up the last bits of puree and add that too. Bring the soup slowly to the boil then stir in the cream without boiling further.
Season to taste with lemon juice (about 1 tbsp), salt (about a teaspoon) and black pepper. Serve with an extra swirl of cream or scatter some crisp-fried sage leaves on top and serve with crusty wholewheat or multi-grain bread.
375g ready rolled puff pastry
1 large or two smaller red peppers (about 225-250g in total)
1 large or two smaller yellow peppers (about 225-250g in total)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 whole cloves of garlic, flattened
4 heaped tbsp red pesto, fresh or from a jar
150g buffalo mozzarella, drained and finely sliced
125g red cherry tomatoes, de-stalked and halved
125g yellow cherry tomatoes, de-stalked and halved
1/2 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
A little freshly grated parmesan
A few basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Take the pastry out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before you need to unroll it.
Quarter the peppers, remove the pith and seeds and cut each quarter into half lengthways. Put them in a roasting tin with the garlic cloves, pour over 2 tbsp olive oil, mix together well and roast for about 20-25 minutes until the edges of the peppers are beginning to blacken. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.
Unroll the pastry and lay on a lightly greased rectangular baking tray. With a sharp knife score a line round the pastry about 1 1/4 cm from the edge. Spread the pesto evenly inside the rectangle you’ve marked. Lay the pepper strips across the base of the tart, alternating red and yellow sections. Tear the mozzarella slices roughly and distribute over the peppers. Grind over some black pepper. Arrange the halved tomatoes over the peppers, red on yellow and yellow on red. Rub the oregano or marjoram over the tart, season with a little salt and a little more pepper and trickle over the remaining oil.
Turn the oven heat up to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Brush the edges of the tart with the beaten egg and bake for 12 minutes or until the edge of the tart is well puffed up and beginning to brown. Turn the heat back down again to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and cook for another 12-15 minutes until the tops of the tomatoes are well browned. Coarsely grate or shave a little parmesan over the tart then leave to cool for 5 minutes. Tear the basil leaves roughly and scatter them over the tart. Serve warm.
Steamed potatoes with butter, parsley and chives
Freshly dug potatoes have a wonderful, earthy, nutty taste that’s best shown off by steaming
1 kg of new or waxy salad potatoes such as Charlotte
40g warm melted butter
2 heaped tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
Scrub the potatoes, leaving the skins on and cut into small even-sized pieces. Steam until tender (about 7-8 minutes). Put the potatoes in a serving dish, pour over the butter, sprinkle with the chopped herbs, season lightly with seasalt and freshly ground black pepper and toss together. Serve warm.
One of the nicest things to have with meal based on seasonal produce is a large, freshly picked salad of dark leafy greens, either from the garden or from the farmer’s market
2 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
4 tbsp organic sunflower oil
200g mixed dark leafy greens such as rocket, spinach and watercress and even a few fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of sugar (optional)
Whisk together the rice vinegar and sunflower oil in a large salad bowl, adding extra salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar to taste if needed. Tip the greens in the salad dressing just before serving and toss together.
6 ripe fresh figs
2 tbsp unrefined light brown soft sugar
1 tsp cinnamon.
6 tbsp sweet oloroso sherry
Caramel, toffee or vanilla icecream to serve
Wash the figs carefully and pat dry. Halve and lay them cut side up in a buttered ovenproof dish. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the figs. Put a knob of butter on top of each half fig and spoon over the sherry.
Place the dish on the lowest grill level and grill until the butter and sugar have melted and the figs are beginning to caramelise (about 5/6 minutes). Serve with caramel, toffee or vanilla ice cream, spooning over the warm sherry-flavoured syrup
One of those clever recipes which look incredibly difficult but which are in fact quite easy to make
2 tbsp golden syrup
75g unrefined light brown soft sugar
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas 3/325°F
You will need 2 large baking sheets lined with non-stick baking parchment
Measure out the golden syrup into a saucepan. (You’ll find this easier to do if you dip the spoon into a jug of boiling water and shake off the excess before you put it in the tin). Add the sugar and butter and heat very gently until just melted then take the pan off the heat. Don’t allow it to boil. Sift the flour with the ginger and allspice and mix thoroughly with the sugar, syrup and butter mixture.
Put four teaspoons of the mixture on the first baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for them to spread. Place in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the biscuits are a rich brown. Five minutes later repeat with the second baking tray*.
When you remove the first batch of biscuits leave them to cool for about a minute then ease them off the paper with a palatte knife. If you want them the traditional curled up brandy snap shape roll them straightaway round the handle of an oiled wooden spoon then place on a baking tray to cool.
Otherwise just leave them flat. Keep baking the mixture in batches of four until it is all used up. The biscuits will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight tin.
* the point about baking brandysnaps in batches is that it gives you time to roll them up while they’re still warm otherwise they’ll break rather than bend.
What to drink
Wine will of course go perfectly well with this menu (a Chardonnay, I suggest with the soup, a soft fruity red like Merlot with the tarts) but maybe I can make a case for artisanal cider which is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment or perry, which is cider made with pears. I’d pick a medium-dry rather than a very dry one which should take you right through the first two courses. The dessert already includes alcohol in the form of a sweet oloroso sherry but you could serve a small glass with it too if you like.
Photography by Peter Cassidy.